ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Theatre ED2013 Week0 Edition

Brian Mitchell & Joseph Nixon: Pitching Daddy and Haystacks at the Fringe

By | Published on Monday 17 June 2013

Daddy v Haystacks

For anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1970s or 1980s, Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, probably the most famous characters in Professional British Wrestling, were big celebrities. Bigger even than the stars of the much more glitzy American wrestling shows that have dominated in subsequent decades. To younger generations, or non-Brits, the fame these ageing weighty men enjoyed will likely seem very odd indeed.
The phenomenon of British Wrestling in the mid-part of the Twentieth Century, and in particular the relationship between these two wrestling men, is the focus of the Fringe play ‘Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks’, which comes to Edinburgh this August. The show stars Ross Gurney and Dave Mounfield (pictured in character), though we spoke to the men behind the play, Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon, to find out what motivated them to revisit this very British ‘sporting’ phenomenon through a two-hander play.

CC: So, what inspired you to write a play about Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks?
BM: We wanted to write a play for two very good actors we know (both big men) and fancied doing something colourful and fun. And, having written a play about the first Trans-Atlantic flight (called ‘Those Magnificent Men’) we felt we should do something equally epic.

CC: Were you a fan of British wrestling already, or did the play require lots of research?
JN: To be honest, as a child my heart used to sink when ‘Tiswas’ ended and I knew we were in for six hours of sport, but I have more affection for pretend sports like wrestling, stock car racing and darts than real sports like cricket or football.
BM: I saw Mick McManus when I was a kid at Butlins and he was fantastic. We did have to do a lot of research though, not least because there’s very little written about it all – so we had to look in some very odd places.

CC: Does the play focus on the personal lives of the two wrestlers, or the story of the rise and fall of British Professional Wrestling?
BM: Both. The two are very much intertwined as you will discover when you watch the play.

CC: Was the highly public feud between the two men any more real than the fighting in the ring?
JN: There wasn’t really a relationship between them in real life, they were just two professionals who worked together. But they were very different men and I suppose they rubbed each other up the wrong way.

CC: Both wrestlers started out as ‘bad guys’ of the ring, but Big Daddy became one of the ‘good guys’. Why do you think that happened?
BM: Big Daddy was a bit of a softy really, and didn’t like being a ‘heel’ – he craved adulation. It was his brother, and manager, Max who moulded him into a good guy, or ‘blue eye’ as they say in the trade.
JN: Let’s not forget that old ladies would jab knitting needles into Haystacks as he walked up to the ring, so Big Daddy can’t be blamed for wanting to be a blue eye!

CC: Why do you think these two wrestlers in particular became such big celebrities in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s?
BM: I think it was because they symbolised – probably subconsciously – two major and opposing strains of the British character in the 70s and 80s. But it might just have been because there was nothing else good on the telly back then.

CC: For those born after British wrestling disappeared from the mainstream TV screens, do you think it will seem odd that these two large ageing men who pretended to fight each other were such big household names?
JN: Yeah – it is odd. We watched some of the bouts on YouTube and it was pitiful really; Big Daddy can hardly move and Haystacks isn’t much better.
BM: Occasionally you see Big Daddy do a body slam, which is impressive, but it takes him half an hour to recover.

CC: It was Greg Dyke who famously axed British wrestling from the ITV schedules. Do you blame him for the slide in the sport’s popularity, or did promoter politics and the rise of American wrestling on UK TV play it’s part?
BM: Well Dyke was responsible for the rise of American wrestling on UK TV, so he was doubly to blame. A lot of factors did make it easy for him to kill it off though.
JN: Yes, it’s debatable how long it would have gone on even without Dyke.

CC: The play was first performed at the Brighton Fringe a couple of years back. How has it developed since then?
BM: It’s tighter, but oddly enough it’s become more of a family show. When we were touring it round the country it was meant to be adults only, but children kept turning up and sitting on the front row, so we had to tone down the swearing somewhat.
JN: But it works better like that, strangely.

CC: How will Ross and David be preparing to play such legendary, popular and large characters?!
JN: Eating.
BM: They’ve spent a lifetime in training and preparation.

Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks’ was performed at Assembly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.foundrygroup.co.uk